2nd Marquess of Sligo: The Forgotten Irish ‘Emancipator of Slaves’
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ANNE writes about the remarkable life of Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo from Westport House, Co Mayo
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The only child and heir of John Denis, 1 st Marquess of Sligo, Westport House estate, Co Mayo and his wife Louisa,daughter and co-heiress of Admiral Richard Howe, British naval hero, victor of the ‘Glorious First of June’ and counsellor to King George III, Howe Peter Browne was reared in a climate of wealth and privilege.
Early Years: A Thrill Seeker With an Ambition for More
At 21 he inherited five titles in the peerage, a 200,000-acre estate in the West of Ireland and valuable plantations in Jamaica. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, his early years conformed to the popular image of a ‘regency buck’ in the notorious world of the Prince Regent at Holland House, Brighton and Newmarket, the gambling houses, bawd houses and theatres of London, to the fashionable salons of Paris, in the company of such profligates as Thomas de Quincey, Lord Byron, John Cam Hobhouse and Scrope Davies. A patron of pugilists, dancers, courtesans, artists and jockeys, Sligo later became a successful horse breeder and was a founder member and steward of the Irish Turf Club.
In 1810, at the height of the Napoleonic War , joining the radical Lady Hester Stanhope and her lover, Michael (Lavallette) Bruce, in Gibraltar, Sligo set out on the mandatory ‘grand tour’. Chartering a ship in Malta to go ‘treasure-seeking’ in Greece, en route he kidnapped some navy seamen from a British warship. Linking up with Byron the two friends shared many escapades in Greece and journeyed together from Athens to Corinth. Sligo excavated at the Acropolis and at Mycenae where he located the famous columns to the Treasury of Atreus (now on view in the British Museum) before moving on to Turkey.
Despite his grandfather’s status as a national maritime hero, on his return to London, Sligo was indicted by the British Admiralty. In a ‘celebrity’ trial in December 1812 at the Old Bailey, he was found guilty of “unlawfully receiving on board his ship at Malta…seamen in the King’s service,” fined and imprisoned for four months in Newgate prison. On his release, in true Gilbert and Sullivan mode, he found that his trial judge had, as Byron recorded, “passed sentence of matrimony” on his mother, the widowed Marchioness of Sligo. Following a tour of the German states and to the battlefield at Leipzig, scene of one of the greatest slaughters of the Napoleonic Wars, Sligo journeyed to the island of Elba. There, courtesy of Fanny Dillon, whose family originated from County Mayo and who was married to Henri-Gatien Bertrand, Napoleon’s loyal marshal and confidante, he was accorded a private audience with the former emperor. His letters home from Italy “giving a long account of Napoleon” were intercepted by the British authorities, however, and never reached their destination.